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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 4:02 a.m., Saturday, November 24, 2007

Warriors are WAC champions, 39-27

By Stephen Tsai
HawaiiWarriorBeat.Com Editor

At last.

A chase that spanned decades came to a chicken-skin end tonight when the Hawai'i football team claimed its first outright Western Athletic Conference championship.

It ended in a mosh pit of celebration after the Warriors conquered arch-rival Boise State, 39-27, before a national television audience and a sellout Aloha Stadium crowd that screamed "B-C-S" into to the full-moon night.

It ended with the Warriors gathering in the locker room in a group prayer, then, in unison, yelling: "WAC champs!"

Both teams entered with 7-0 WAC records, but it was the Broncos who stepped onto the FieldTurf wearing the crown.

The Broncos had won the past five WAC titles, winning 46 of 47 league games during that span. They had won the previous six meetings against the Warriors.

"We believed," UH quarterback Colt Brennan said. "That was our motto."

It was strengthened during a chapel service yesterday morning when the pastor gave a sermon on David and Goliath.

"If you believe, giants will fall," UH defensive tackle Michael Lafaele said. "Giants do fall."

But they do not fall easily, and the feisty Broncos — aided by two blocks of UH point-after kicks — seized a 27-26 lead on Kyle Brotzman's 36-yard field with 6:52 remaining in the third quarter.

But the Warriors quickly responded, driving 70 yards in 10 plays, to go ahead, 32-27, on a 7-yard pass from Brennan to Jason Rivers.

Later, the Warriors made it 39-27 when C.J. Hawthorne made an over-the-shoulder-pads catch of a Brennan pass for a 38-yard touchdown play.

After that, the Warriors' defense took charge. The Broncos rely on a shifts and motions to keep opponents on the heels of their cleats. But clear away the smoke, and their fire comes from a power running game and play-action passes.

"Take away the run," Lafaele said, "and you stop them."

And that's what the Warriors did, with the ends bracketing the Broncos' offense, and linebackers Blaze Soares and Timo Paepule filling the gaps.

The Broncos were held to a season-low 101 rushing yards, with only 32 in the second half.

Running back Ian Johnson rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns, but had only six yards after the intermission.

With the running game contained, the Broncos' play-action passes had less deception.

After a nervous start, Brennan found his groove, completing 40 of 53 passes for 495 yards and five touchdowns.

In the process, he broke Ty Detmer's NCAA record for career touchdown passes. Brennan now has 126.

Davone Bess caught a school-record 15 passes, giving him 27 receptions in the past two games.

Rivers added 11 catches for 113 yards.

The Warriors' four starting receivers — Bess, Rivers, Hawthorne and Ryan Grice-Mullins — each had a scoring catch.

With Brennan at the controls, the Warriors controlled the clock in the fourth quarter. After Boise State's Taylor Tharp was sacked with 6:26 to play, the Warriors would not relinquish the ball.

When the Warriors gained a first down inside the Broncos' 1 with 35 seconds left, the countdown to the UH's 11th victory in as many games began. The Broncos, without a timeout, could not stop the impending celebration in which fans stormed the field.

A makeshift stage was set up, and WAC commissioner Karl Benson, fighting through the crowd, presented the trophy to the dancing Warriors.

"It was a great night," whispered head coach June Jones, who won his first outright championship as a coach.

Brennan threw two scoring passes and ran a yard for a touchdown to stake the Warriors to a 19-17 lead at the half.

Brennan became the NCAA leader in career touchdown passes with his 6-yard throw to Grice-Mullins with 3:53 left in the first quarter. That tied the score at 7.

The Broncos, whose opening 13-play drive was halted by an interception by safety Jacob Patek, were more efficient on their second possession. Marty Tadman's 34-yard punt return set up the Broncos at the 50.

Johnson then took a handoff, broke two tackles in a run up the middle. He then broke right and outraced a defensive back to complete the 50-yard scoring play, giving Boise State a 7-0 lead.

The Warriors took a 14-7 lead on Brennan's 1-yard run. The score was set up by right wideout Hawthorne's 23-yard gain off an inside screen. It appeared Hawthorne had stretched the ball across the plane of the goal line, but the replay official ruled that he was down at the 1.

The point-after kick was blocked — the Broncos' 10th block this season. In last year's meeting between the teams, the Broncos blocked two PATs.

The Broncos went ahead on Johnson's second touchdown run, this time from a yard.

But the Warriors regained the lead on a 23-yard pass from Brennan to slotback Bess, who caught the pass at the 6, and eluded a defender before stumbling into the end zone.

But the Broncos again blocked the PAT.

Boise State then closed to 19-17 on Kyle Brotzman's 39-yard field goal.

The Broncos missed a chance to take the lead when Brotzman's field-goal attempt from 49 yards fell short with 13 seconds left in the half.

Brennan completed 20 of 27 first-half passes for 241 yards.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8051. See Tsai's blog at blogs.honoluluadvertiser.com.